In the beginning, when darkness covered the face of the deep, the Holy Spirit took a breath and began to sing, and the world came into being. It’s like life itself heard the word of God and got up from the dead! Life coming back to life. Love coming back to love. And there was light, and there was land, and there were creatures…
And maybe the LORD our God was surprised —not because they didn’t know what they were making, but because when they looked around at everything, God themselves burst out laughing! Who knew it would be good? Who knew it would be this good…
In the beginning of the story Sylvia read, Jesus arrives in Bethany, and already he’s too late. His best friend died a few days earlier, and Jesus was not there. He did not get to see Lazarus in his final moments or say goodbye, and you and I know, death is funny like that.
Now before Jesus even arrived at the house, Lazarus’s sister, Martha, runs out to meet him with something to say: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know God will do what you ask…
Maybe Jesus was ready for this accusation. Maybe he spent the way over rehearsing what he was going to say. Here it’s the worst day, and he tells Martha what some people might say is the most important Bible verse— but I think it’s the second most important Bible verse.
Jesus says: I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
Martha answers: Oh yes! I know you are the Messiah, the one coming into the world, the one coming for us. Then Martha raced back to get her sister leaving Jesus standing on the road.
These days we’re continuing our journey through the Gospel of John, and one of the things we’re noticing is that everything is in motion. All through this book, there’s a chronic crossing of boundaries. Outsiders become insiders, while insiders get sent out beyond the limits of their imaginations. Jesus welcomes a Samaritan woman, while a teacher of the Pharisees gets sent back out into the night. The blind begin to see more and more clearly, while the ones in charge become more and more afraid.
Alongside this flow of opposites spilling into each other, the people gradually begin to realize who Jesus really is. They begin to understand that he is the Messiah, and like Martha, they begin to believe.
Everything is fluid. The holy spills into the human; the human spills into the holy, and here’s what I’m wondering… In that second most important Bible verse, we’re accustomed to hearing the cause and effect go in one direction, but what if it goes the other way too?
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. Usually we take this to mean: You had better believe in Jesus. If you do that, you will live and have new life. The work is believing; the joy is finding new life, and that might okay. It’s just—
When you look at what’s happening in the Gospel of John, you have to wonder whether it’s not really the other way around… First, get up from the dead, then you might wind up believing in Christ. What if the work is in the coming back to life? What if the joy is finding our faith?
All through this Gospel, life is coming right at us! It’s calling our name. Life coming back to life. Love coming back to love. Now when life is coming for you, what are you going to do?
Martha left Jesus on the road and went to get her sister, Mary, and well. Mary was a hot mess. She hadn’t showered in days; she hadn’t been sleeping. Even though Lazarus was in the tomb, their whole house was still full of death. So when Mary raced out the door, the other people there were so worried, they raced out the door too.
Mary sees Jesus on the road, and before he can say hello, she falls down crying. Then Mary says the same thing that her sister said: Lord if only you had been here…
Jesus does not tell her: I am the resurrection and the life. He does not ask her to believe. Instead, Jesus looks at Mary and sees her anguish. He sees her crying and he sees the others crying, and the LORD our God loses it. He falls down on his knees beside her, and that’s when we get the most important Bible verse:
Now I don’t think he meant for this to happen! He was probably rehearsing what he would say to Mary, but once he saw her, that’s it. His own heart broke. The Savior of the world is sobbing and getting snot everywhere, and you and I know. Death is funny like that.
If you have ever found yourself thick in sorrow, then you understand. Grief refuses to follow our five stage plan on our timetable. Instead, it has a way of blindsiding us that’s almost cruel. Sometimes, after someone you love dies, there will be a moment when you’ll forget that they’re really dead. Until it hits you. Sometimes grief that we’ve grieved years ago will pop up out of nowhere and knock us down again.
And it’s not fair.
And I can tell you that grief is really an outpouring of love, that having our own hearts break is what it is to be human. And that’s true! And that doesn’t really help.
If you know what it is to be thick in grief, nobody could blame you when the LORD looks at you and speaks the words of life, and well, no thank you. Not today. Go tell the angels to run their miracle on somebody else. We’re spent.
If you have lived through two years of pandemic, only to come back and find that everything is changed, and by the way, have you seen the world? Yeah. Nobody could blame you for saying to the LORD you’d rather sit this one out. I mean, at least the grief is familiar. We’ve learned how to wrap up inside of it… Nobody could blame you.
What if life is calling us back? What if life is coming for you, and who knew it could be good? Who knew it could be this good…
On Wednesdays during Lent, we’ll be sharing the book Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. At first glance, this looks like the story of an evangelical millennial who grew disillusioned with the church of her childhood, so she sets out on a journey all across Christendom until she finds a church that sings to her soul. Now that’s part of this story all right, but there’s so much more…
This book is not really about finding the right church. It’s about the author finding a longing in her spirit to come back to life, and wouldn’t you know, this longing leads her right into the deep love of Jesus. I will tell you, in reading this, I found own my heart break when Rachel’s heart broke. Her story brought me to tears; it brought my faith back to meeting Jesus on the road.
My friend Emily was in writer’s group with Rachel. If circumstances were otherwise, I would ask Emily to see if Rachel would Zoom with us on one of these Wednesdays. But as you might know, Rachel died unexpectedly three years ago. Life is funny like that. Now she might be the one who helps us come back to life.
She writes this:
“If I’ve learned anything in this journey… it’s that Sunday morning sneaks up on us like dawn, like resurrection, like the sun that rises a ribbon at a time… God surprises us by showing up in ordinary things: in bread, in wine, in water, in words, in sickness, in healing, in death, in a manger of hay, in a mother’s womb, in an empty tomb.”1Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Thomas Nelson Press. Nashville, TN: 2015. page 258.
Once Jesus gets up from the ground, he rushes to the tomb with Martha, and Mary, and all the people. Our story started with words of life, then it moved into the weeping of grief, now I need to warn you. It takes a sharp turn into hilarity.
To begin with, it’s like Jesus forgot about the stone sealing the entrance of the tomb. He yells: Take away this stone! Who’s he yelling at? Are Mary and Martha supposed to move the stone?!
Now if the second most important Bible verse is when Jesus says: I am the resurrection and the life, and if the most important Bible verse is the one that goes: Jesus wept, the hands-down most hilarious Bible verse gets spoken by Martha when Jesus wants to open the tomb:
But Lord, she says to him, it’s been four days. He stinketh!
No kidding! Can you imagine the stench!
Lazarus is all bound up in grave clothes when the word of God called him to get up from the dead. Poor Lazarus! He can’t even see, much less move his arms or legs. He has to hop his way over to the edge of the tomb like a mummy!
Now Lazarus never asked for life to come and get him.
And all I’m saying is if it could happen to him…
Life is funny like that, and life is coming for us, even in our depression, even in our grief. And who knows? You might find yourself believing. You might even find yourself laughing!
Who knew it could be good, right? Who knew it could be this good…
|↑1||Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Thomas Nelson Press. Nashville, TN: 2015. page 258.|